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The Long Song by Andrea Levy
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The Long Song

by Andrea Levy

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899629,817 (3.62)1 / 239
  1. 10
    The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom (vancouverdeb)
    vancouverdeb: Similar themes: black slaves, a young woman who works within the "White Master's" Plantation house.Slavery,Freedom from slavery; both wonderfully written. Divided loyalities, a fiesty female slave.
  2. 10
    Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill (legxleg, JenMDB)
    legxleg: Both are stories of women who are born slaves and live through long periods of history.
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English (57)  Dutch (3)  Swedish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (62)
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
The Long Song is written in the form of a memoir and the narrator takes on a very prominent role from the beginning of the novel. As soon as you open the front cover of the book, you see the following text:

You do not know me yet but I am the narrator of this work. My son Thomas, who is printing this book, tells me it is customary at this place in a novel to give the reader a little taste of the story that is held within these pages. As your storyteller, I am to convey that this tale is set in Jamaica during the last turbulent years of slavery and the early years of freedom that followed.

The narrator begins to tell the story of July, a slave girl living on a sugar plantation in Jamaica in the early 19th century. July is taken from her mother at a young age and brought up to be a house slave to her mistress, Caroline Mortimer, who has freshly arrived from England. The story is told exclusively from July's perspective, but the narrative is beautifully crafted to include anecdotes and small stories that compete with July's tale. The novel is really about the art of storytelling. It takes the reader to a completely different atmosphere and carefully constructs the setting, the time and the characters to make them seem so alive, so real.

One of the most amazing things about the novel is its language. The vocabulary and sentence structures imitate the Jamaican Creole language. Especially the spoken language and dialogue between the slaves is incredibly written: "This be Miss Kitty's pickney, Miss July. Me did pull her with me own hand 'pon this world. Miss Kitty's pickney - Miss Kitty's pickney has come home."

The novel follows the progress of the end of slavery in Jamaica. As the English plantation owners and overseers desperately try to maintain some of their authority over their workers, the Jamaican slaves are granted freedom. Yet this does not stop them from being treated as second-class citizens. Having "black blood" in your family meant you were not "white" - hence you could not enjoy the same privileges in society as white people. The novel explains the system of labelling people according to their black heritage:

Only with a white man, can there be guarantee that the colour of your pickney will be raised. For a mulatto who breeds with a white man will bring forth a quadroom; and the quadroon that enjoys white relations will give to this world a mustee; the mustee will beget a mustiphino; and the mustiphino... oh, the mustiphino's child with a white man for a papa, will find each day greets them no longer with a frown, but welcomes them with a smile, as they at last stride within this world as a cherished white person.

The novel is a colourful picture of a time and place that I was not familiar with before. It is somehow similar to Toni Morrison's novels, although the setting is different. It gives a shocking image of systematically practiced slavery and inequality that justified itself on racism - a social system that existed between people of different races and skin colours just a couple hundred years ago.

Andrea Levy herself says that the inspiration for writing the novel came from the idea that there is no reason for people of Jamaican heritage to feel ashamed of their slave ancestors. On the contrary: "If our ancestors survived the slave ships they were strong. If they survived the plantations they were clever." But the novel does not stereotype, it does not portray slaves as innocent victims and slave-owners as purely evil and violent. Each side has multiple stories to tell, and July's story is just one of them.

Original review
  GoST | Nov 7, 2014 |
I'm not sure that this ever really took flight for me. I kept expecting it to seer the pages, and it kept feeling like it was pulling its punches. Maybe that was the point, but it felt like something was missing. Told by July, it is a life story. You first discover July is being encouraged to write this by her son, who she lives with in a seemingly comfortable state. This is her life, told in retrospect, from its beginnings in slavery to her becoming a house servant, then becoming free and what that means to her and her fellow slaves. . The interplay between past and present and the interjections of the son at times felt clumsy. July tries several times to end her memoir, but her son wants it told, I'm not sure this reflects well on either of them. He seems to want her to get to the part where he looks good, she seems happy to leave certain parts of the tale untold. Either way, it didn't seem to hang together very well. ( )
  Helenliz | Sep 25, 2014 |
The best book I've read so far this year. Andrea Levy tells the story of the last years of Jamaican slavery and the first years of manumission with a piercing humor, sometimes gentle and humane and sometimes appropriately less so.

The story is framed by a successful Jamaican printer who encourages his mother, July, to write down the story of her life, largely because she is distracting him by constantly trying to tell it to him. Mostly she tells the story in the third person but periodically the novel returns to the first person, present tense -- the time she is writing it many years later. It begins with July's conception in the rape of her mother by the overseer. And the continuous narrative ends with an event even more cold hearted and brutal.

In between, it tells the story of July, a sly, witty slave who becomes a house slave and, after manumission, continues on as a house servant.

It is hard for me to capture just how compelling, well written, beautifully imagined, funny, and tragic the book is. So you should read it for yourself. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
Received via Member Giveaway.

The Long Song provides a well-told glimpse into the lives of sugar plantation residents - both slaves and owners.

Miss July is the perfect narrator for the story. It is her story for the most part. But it is also the story of the people around her, and the times she lives in.

While it is not entirely a comfortable read, Ms. Levy's prose takes you into the lives of the characters portrayed - their loves, their sorrows, their envies, and what makes them who they are - in such a way as to make them come alive. ( )
  strogan | May 2, 2014 |
I adored the way Miss July speaks to us and calls us "Reader".

I truly felt as though she was speaking directly to me. She was revealing her life story and I was the only one she was talking with in such an intimate fashion and I was hanging on to her every word.

And a brilliant story it was! ( )
  FAR2MANYBOOKS | Apr 5, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
As is inevitable in any book about slavery, this novel is confronting. And at times it is almost unbearable to witness the attitudes of the plantation owners.
 
In The Long Song, Andrea Levy explores her Jamaican heritage more completely than ever before. This sensational novel – her first since the Orange Prize-winning Small Island...Slavery is a grim subject indeed, but the wonder of Levy’s writing is that she can confront such things and somehow derive deeply life-affirming entertainment from them. July emerges as a defiant, charismatic, almost invincible woman who gives a unique voice to the voiceless, and for that she commands affection and admiration. Levy’s aim, she says, was to write a book that instilled pride in anyone with slave ancestors and The Long Song, though “its load may prove to be unsettling”, is surely that book.

 
Andrea Levy's insightful and inspired fifth novel, "The Long Song," reminds us that she is one of the best historical novelists of her generation....Levy's previous novel, "Small Island," is rightly regarded as a masterpiece, and with "The Long Song" she has returned to the level of storytelling that earned her the Orange Prize in 2004. Her heroine narrates the beginning of the end of slavery in Jamaica, coming to a climax with the 1831 Baptist War, when enslaved men and women fought their enslavers for 10 days. It's clear that Levy has done her research, but this work never intrudes upon the narrative, which travels at a jaunty pace. Levy's sly humor swims just under the surface of the most treacherous waters
 
Slavery is a subject that has inspired some magnificent fiction (think of Toni Morrison's Beloved or Valerie Martin's Property), but I had some misgivings: might it not, in this case, make for over-serious writing, especially for a novelist as comically inclined as Levy? But she dares to write about her subject in an entertaining way without ever trivialising it and The Long Song reads with the sort of ebullient effortlessness that can only be won by hard work.....The heart of the novel is July's description of the ménage à trois between Caroline, herself and Caroline's newly acquired English abolitionist husband, Robert. You despise, pity and almost – but never quite – sympathise with Caroline. On first arriving in Jamaica, she appears a twit – yet with a lively curiosity

 
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For Amy, Ivy and Beryl
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The book you are now holding within your hand was born of a craving.
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Lezer, ik moet u iets opbiechten. Leg uw oor dicht tegen deze bladzij. Nog iets dichterbij. Want ik voel me genoodzaakt om vrijuit en oprecht te spreken over het hoofdstuk dat u zojuist hebt gelezen. Luistert u, lezer? dan zal ik u het volgende onthullen: over het algemeen gedroegen blanke mannen op dit eiland in de Cariben zich niet zo.
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from Amazon com : A distinctive narrative voice and a beguiling plot distinguish Levy's fifth novel (after Orange Prize–winning Small Island). A British writer of Jamaican descent, Levy draws upon history to recall the island's slave rebellion of 1832. The unreliable narrator pretends to be telling the story of a woman called July, born as the result of a rape of a field slave, but it soon becomes obvious that the narrator is July herself. Taken as a house slave when she's eight years old, July is later seduced by the pretentiously moralistic English overseer after he marries the plantation's mistress; his clergyman father has assured him that a married man might do as he pleases. Related in July's lilting patois, the narrative encompasses scenes of shocking brutality and mass carnage, but also humor, sometimes verging on farce. Levy's satiric eye registers the venomous racism of the white characters and is equally candid in relating the degrees of social snobbery around skin color among the blacks themselves, July included. Slavery destroys the humanity of everyone is Levy's subtext, while the cliffhanger ending suggests (one hopes) a sequel.
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The child of a field slave on the Amity sugar plantation in Jamaica, July lives with her mother until a recently transplanted English widow decides to move her into the great house and rename her. She remains bound to the plantation despite her "freedom." The arrival of a young English overseer dramatically changes life in the great house.… (more)

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